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  • Writer's pictureAtomicRakshasi

Slaying the Dragon – Notes on Productivity and Procrastination

In my last post, I talked about the complicated life and personality of children’s lit writer Enid Blyton but didn’t delve into her awesome capacity to produce 6000-10,000 words a day without any drop in standard. So, what was the secret behind Enid Blyton’s prolific talent?


When it came to the time she spent writing her books and responding to her fan mail, it was the time that she took away from her family, who were mere props when it came to advertising her supposedly idyllic life. However, this wouldn’t remotely be an issue if she had been a man, even today, because women have been supporting men’s careers and tending to the “lesser” job of child-rearing and housekeeping for so long.


But I digress.


I’m not a big fan of discipline, although I’ve been disciplined to a fault before. Discipline doesn’t account for nepotism, systemic discrimination, economic slumps, sabotage, having to bear the brunt of another colleague’s incompetence and having to micro-manage a reputation so that your work experience doesn’t go to waste. It doesn’t account for the choices you’re forced into making that derail your career, however much you try to prevent it. It doesn’t account for having deal to with the self-sabotage of being the “nice” person which, considering all the pitfalls mentioned above, is a useless endeavour. After considering all this, I’ve gotten cynical about hard work and living a balanced life.



Self-Discipline, ey?


To quote ace motivational speaker Mel Robbins, “You’re never going to feel like it”.

I like to call it ‘starting trouble’ when the battery fights back and brays like the donkey mentioned above. She’s right, of course—you’re never going to feel like it. As a solution, she gives this miraculous five-second rule that shuts off the self-sabotaging voice that makes you avoid basic, boring or strenuous tasks, but it’s a rule I’m too terrified to apply because I hang on to my self-sabotage like a warm cosy blanket on a winter morning. I get things done when the pile is so high that I have no choice, then spend even more time recovering from the effort. If it sounds like a cyclical nightmare, but there it is. It’s not perfect but it gets things done, at a price. I hang on to my abhorrence for discipline to a fault, because I lost my faith in it for the aforementioned reasons. To put it simply, productivity is just a lot more complicated than self-discipline. Moreover, when you wake up in the morning and you’re surrounded by a candy shop of wonderful choices, why would you want to eat spinach?


Procrastination


Mel Robbins recommended the book Originals by psychologist Adam Grant, who is a proponent of procrastination, which is strangely the opposite of what she preaches. When I’m not being cynical, I’m a proponent of both self-discipline and procrastination, but to break this down: which one of them it is, depends on the task at hand. Chores need to be gotten over with, but that story you’re working on? You can chew on that a lot longer—Ursula K. Le Guin referred to it as “composting”. You can spend hours planning that giant artwork, in your head, on paper, but stick to a minimum drawing a day when it comes to your sketchbook. The key here is knowing when to do what and the only way that can be achieved is through mindfulness.


Mindfulness


Let’s be honest, most of us are like the supporting cast of The Walking Dead, we don’t really question where we’re going. It takes a lot of intense introspection, some uncomfortable epiphanies and a whole lot of self-criticism to take control of your thoughts, your mind and your goals.

I know you’ve heard the ‘M’ word before and you’re probably sick of it, but meditation and stillness actually do help you focus. As for that ‘starting trouble’, it helps to visualize the task at hand. Imagine you are Sigurd or Bilbo and go face that dragon.


Courage Nap


Enjoy that deathlike sleep while you can. It’s how I face the second half of the day, but there’s always a danger of Rip Van Winkling it.


Inspiration


Motivation, according to Mel Robbins, is bullshit (but then she is a motivational speaker). It’s followed closely by inspiration, which has got a bad rap in the past few decades.

I need my inspiration close at hand because it makes me feel good, so I’m constantly feeding myself with art and reading.


Distraction


I plug into audiobooks while I’m doing my chores, because it helps me drag my reluctant, procrastinating ass to the sink and attack that pile of dishes. I’ve managed to finish a long list of books in that manner and I’ve done a lot of cleaning too. It's how I distract myself from the bitter, unending mundanity of everyday life.


The Anti-Bujo, Retro-Psych and All the Wonderful Things I Did Yesterday


I joined the Bullet Journal brigade a few years ago and I’m still refining the original template to suit my needs. Here’s my biggest problem with it though—that task list, that one that resembles a skyscraper? One look at it and I deflate like a cartoon balloon. My unfinished tasks pile up, the dust grows thick, and pretty soon I’m living in a Silent Hill-like alternative reality and breathing in spores.

What do I do? I don’t look at the list. Instead, I use the aforementioned psychs to tackle the most pressing tasks and then, at the end of the day or the next day, I cross off all the wonderful things I’ve done (like improving the air quality of my home). I call it “Retro-Psych” and it feels awfully good, and I temporarily get over that feeling of dread when I look at another task list.

And I still hate any form of housework.


How Did that Month Go?


On a good day, I can produce 2000 words but there’s no guarantee of those being a usable 2000 words. On a good day I can dedicate myself to finishing my chores, working out, eating healthy homemade food and reserving at least a couple of hours to my commissions, provided I’m not interrupted by other housekeeping/secretarial/parental obligations, which are an inevitable by-product of having to work at home. I have to customize each day according to the time I have available and unfortunately, that leads to a lot of unfinished projects. But there are tiny goals that you can stick to. The ten-minute sketch, five minutes of conceptualization, and two minutes of meditation.

The truth is, there are no balanced days. If you lower your expectations, you’re going to be a lot less stressed about achieving your goals because we all know stress can lead to bad performance. You can also mark your progress by recounting your achievements at the end of every month, like an achievement tracker, or figure out what held you up. If it’s people who are tripping you up, then you need to draw boundaries. Kick them off the edge like a flat-earther.


More Issues Than Vogue


So back to Enid Blyton's prolific 10k words-a-day ability. What exactly drove her? If you've read the post, you also know about her issues. The drive comes from a fiery belly, and the behaviour that fuels it is often compensatory, meaning you're always trying to fill a hole and can't get enough: be it ambition, greed, love or some form of sadism that feeds off of the misery of others. Anger, I've realised is an excellent fuel. So is insecurity.

The problem with all these behaviours is that they take their toll on your body. They're driven by stress, and stress ages you. So you can make a choice between rapid ageing and plain old discipline, one of which is boring as hell.


It's Probably Not Going to Get Better


Five years ago, I had an artistic block fifteen years in the making as I had lost my faith in discipline, originality and effort. Waiting for inspiration just wasn’t working (Mel Robbins is right). Following the tiny goals rule, I’m more than over it. Eighteen years ago, I started working on a book that I restarted about twelve times, slacking off for months in between, because I wasn’t happy with the quality of my writing, and must have thrown away hundreds of hours of writing. I procrastinated, but the quality of my writing improved from garbage to passable. (Yay!)

So am I Enid Blyton disciplined? No, definitely not. I don’t have the stamina or the ruthlessness, and I have other stuff to do. But this isn’t a how-to about diving gung-ho into a new lifestyle. It’s a journey, and sometimes you'll feel like there’s no end in sight.






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